UAB’s Partridge begins term as American Cancer Society president

Edward Partridge, M.D., has been a part of the American Cancer Society (ACS) from the day he finished his gynecology/oncology training at the UAB School of Medicine in 1973.

On Friday, Nov. 5, Partridge, director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, began his one-year term as president of the ACS National Board of Directors. He knows how to get things done, and he has work to do.

Partridge is a renowned physician and leader in the fight to reduce cancer-survival disparities based on race and ethnicity. His early work helped gain Alabama participation in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which allows women diagnosed with an abnormal mammogram to receive treatment regardless of financial means.

The ACS has lofty goals for the next 18 months as it works to reinvent itself. One of the key goals is doubling the number of lives saved daily.

Partridge, a Demopolis native, will lead this charge for the next 12 months. He talked to the UAB Reporter recently about this challenge, the growth of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and efforts to eliminating cancer as a major public health problem.

Q. What does it mean to you to be president of the Board of Directors of the ACS?

A. It's amazing to be part of an organization that — largely because of some of the work we've done here at UAB — helps avert 340 cancer deaths each day because of the work begun 20 years ago. I'm proud of what we've accomplished and know there is a lot more we can do.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish as president of the American Cancer Society?

A. What we want to do as an organization — and I'm proud to be one of the leaders in the process — is transform ourselves to be able to affect the nation in such a way that we have 1,000 fewer deaths from cancer each day. We have enough knowledge. We need to look at our programs, how we deliver them and do the things that are going to have the greatest bang for the buck and really make a difference in people's lives. We're going to spend the next 18 months doing that. Twelve of those months, I'll be part of the leadership reinventing itself. It's a great opportunity to be a leader in the society.

Q. How will your new position spotlight the work of UAB and the Comprehensive Cancer Center?

A. As the president of the ACS, you do have a national podium. I'm proud to represent the American Cancer Society and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center in this role. I find that what we do in both organizations is very complementary. We have the same mission to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem. We have research, outreach and cancer-control programs that are parallel. My role as the ACS president will only enhance the visibility of UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Q. How has the Cancer Center grown and what progress do you anticipate in coming years?

A. The UAB CCC has been in existence now for almost 40 years. It was one of the original National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers and has grown substantially in that period of time.

I think there are two areas in which we really distinguish ourselves. One is translational research — we take a finding from the bench and get it into human clinical trials. We do that exceptionally well, and we have a number of success stories in which we've actually changed the standard of care worldwide.

The second is reducing cancer disparities. There are groups of individuals, usually those with lower education, less income and less access to care, that suffer disproportionally from cancer. We have an 18-year history of developing programs that make a difference in those under-served populations, and we're proud of our successes there.

Q. What effect has being in Alabama had on the CCC?

A. I'm an Alabama native, and I've been here for all of my training and all my life. There are two things that I believe have made a difference. One is the interest in cancer disparities. I think our geographic location makes it almost a moral imperative for our institution.

Second, 40 years ago UAB was a young medical school that didn't have a critical mass of scientists; our leaders recognized that we were going to have to be collaborative and bring different scientists together. That collaborative spirit has enabled us to be effective in our translational research and given us the opportunity to be successful.

The fact this cancer center is located here and in Alabama has really led to our areas of expertise.

Q. How close are we to eliminating cancer as a major public health problem?

A. We have the knowledge today to eliminate about half of the deaths that occur from cancer each day. Sometime in your lifetime, and maybe even mine, we're going to realize our vision to eliminate cancer as a public health problem. If we can control tobacco, increase physical activity and healthy eating and make sure people are age-appropriately screened for cancer then we can make a major impact in cancer today without other discoveries.

We also have to make sure all individuals with cancer have access to the highest quality care.

The other exciting thing is we've unraveled the human genome and now recognize that cancer is really a genetic disease. As we understand those genetic abnormalities and begin to manipulate those pathways, we have the potential to really affect the care of patients with cancer or identify patients who are at high risk and modify that risk.

It's going to be eliminated as a major public health problem this century — probably in the first 50 years. There's no question about it. The only question is how fast it's going to occur, and that's only limited by the nation's investment in cancer programs.

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